(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)
In one of the many tragicomic moments in “Katiyabaaz” (Powerless), a woman earnestly remembers her gods in the darkness, mumbling something that roughly translates to “Dear Almighty, please bring back the light”. ‘Light’ here means electricity.
Her prayer sounds absurd but her misery is real. As a resident of Kanpur, the invocation is probably made after several hours without electricity or even clean water in the sweltering and often lethal heat of a north Indian summer.
The award-winning documentary by Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar takes a compelling look at the problem of chronic power outages that the industrial city of Kanpur has suffered for decades. The film-makers focus their lens on Loha Singh and Ritu Maheshwari, two unusual but highly engaging heroes.
Singh, a diminutive man with uneven, betel-stained teeth, steals electricity for a living and uses a heavy dose of profanities in Hindi. Maheshwari is a plump bureaucrat tasked with turning around KESCO – a power distribution company beset by a paucity of funds, graft, inefficiency and a bad public image.
Worlds apart in their material circumstances and locked in a battle with each other, the underlying parallels between the two are uncanny. They are willing to take chances and risk public ire because both are convinced they are fighting for a just cause. Both work hard and take pride in what they do for a living but are aware that their professions are harming their personal lives. Both appear to be powerful but are actually easily dispensable.